The fall of my freshman year I worried most about the change in academic rigor from high school to college. I realized I would have to adjust how much time I spent on my schoolwork and my methods of studying. I didn’t realize I would also have to reevaluate my previous friendships as well as my methods for forming new bonds. That first semester made me realize I no longer had any close friends and that I’d have to use more energy than in the past to form quality friendships. As the semester got more challenging and more things in my life were changing, I began to long for a support system on campus. I wanted REAL friends.
I tried some of the traditional ways to make friends like keeping my door open in my residence hall, talking to people in my classes and trying to join clubs. Although I met many people, none of the relationships stuck. Unlike high school, where I saw the same people daily, college life was more fluid and unpredictable. People where entering and exiting my life more quickly than I was able to remember their names! The few people who were consistently in my life were my roommates and a group of guys who lived on my floor. But the more I got to know them the more I wish I didn’t know them at all. I didn’t share any values with them. In fact, many of their views were in opposition to the identities I hold (i.e., they were kinda racist/sexist).
These issues became very apparent after an incident in a store toward the end of my first semester. I was followed throughout the store and stopped by security. In that moment I felt scared, humiliated and alone. I rushed back to my building, wanting someone, anyone, to confide in. I tried talking with one of the people I regularly hung out with, but he just questioned me and tried to figure out what I “did wrong” that “made” them think I was stealing. I was hurt and I was angry. Soon after this I decided to tell one of my professors what happened and about the reaction of the person from my floor. She introduced me to some students she knew who shared similar identities and values. I didn’t become best friends with these new people overnight, but I suddenly had people to eat with in the dining hall and I could talk about my life experiences with them without worrying about being shut down. I am still friends with one of these people now, two years later!
Starting my second year didn’t make finding friends any easier but I learned many things about making quality friends. I understood that a fulfilling friendship is like a plant; it needs nourishment and time in order to grow. I no longer thought of myself as a failure for not having a bunch of best friends. First year students are always told how to make new friends but aren’t taught the value in nurturing brand new friendships and I think that is a major oversight. Making friends for the sake of not being alone isn’t enough. You should never tolerate people who make you feel bad about yourself. It is OKAY to struggle with making friends because quality friendships take discretion.
MYTH: Peer pressure only exists in high school
When we graduate from high school, we don’t graduate from peer pressure. I remember thinking that if I could just make it out of high school, I would finally escape the peer pressure to drink, smoke, and hook up that was ever present, especially on weekends. The reality is that peer pressure is a class from which few of us ever graduate. I had such high expectations for college that it was a rude awakening to realize that peer pressure was stronger than ever.
In college, peer pressure is heightened because–unlike high school, where we could escape to our bedrooms to avoid some of what was going on–we can’t separate ourselves so easily from our peer groups. Instead of a sanctuary to which we can retreat, our residence hall rooms can be the scene of the peer pressure. For many Ohio State freshmen–away from home for the first time–the physical presence and the emotional and spiritual support of parents and siblings is greatly diminished. The friends who shaped our experiences have gone off in different directions and some have radically changed. These alterations to our support systems can be confusing, and challenge our ability to distinguish among the morals and values we thought we packed and brought along to college.
Why is it so hard to say no?
We all want to make friends, fit in, and be liked. The desire to feel like we are part of a group is completely normal, and most people feel this way their entire lives! We want to appear cool to a potential new friend, so we go along with our ‘friend’s’ request despite knowing that it is not the right choice. I know from experience that sometimes my values can be compromised, especially when I’m trying to escape the loneliness that comes from being with others who don’t share the same values and morals.
How can we effectively deal with peer pressure?
I’m a senior in college and I still struggle with peer pressure. From the glimpses I’ve gotten of the working world, I’ve learned that peer pressure isn’t going away any time soon. Developing the skills to effectively deal with peer pressure will be a lifelong benefit to us. I have gathered some of the strategies that I and my fellow Peer Leaders use to cope with peer pressure:
- Educate yourself with the facts. Not everyone is drinking or having sex!
- Have honest conversations before you are put in a situation where peer pressure may arise. Peer Leader Lauren has found that when she is up front with her friends about her decision not to consume alcohol, her friends respect her choice and don’t pressure her to compromise her values. Don’t be afraid to communicate your perspective with your roommates and friends and be open to listening to others’ perspectives. Good communication on your part about your values helps others know where you stand, and others will be less apt to pressure you to do things you don’t want to do.
- Try not to rely too heavily on the approval of brand new friends. This is easier said than done. Give more weight to the opinions of those you hold dear than to the opinions of new acquaintances. When stuck on a decision, consult those who embody your values instead of someone who doesn’t.
- Surround yourself with people who share similar values, especially when you’re still developing a sense of self. I didn’t know myself well enough in my first year to know that I needed friends who didn’t go out and party. I wish I would have realized that there is always someone who wants to watch Gossip Girl or go to Jeni’s for ice cream instead of go out to a bar.
- Have an exit plan. If you are in a situation where you feel pressured to do something you don’t want to do, it’s perfectly okay to say you’re not feeling well or you have to go. You don’t owe anyone a long-winded explanation.
- Find someone you trust to talk to when you have felt peer pressured. Debriefing is a good way to understand more about yourself. Perhaps you might have these conversations with your Peer Leader or RA 🙂